UPDATE a day later: The segment of the interview during which he spoke about black British actors working in the USA is only about 2 minutes of an almost 40-minute conversation covering numerous topics; but it’s the segment that’s received the most press coverage, ignoring everything else that’s discussed in the interview, which is unfortunate, because he touches on several other issues that are also worthy of coverage.
And so it was expected that he would likely eventually have to address the one item that’s reignited a years-old debate, which he did, speaking with the Associated Press after his critical comments about black British actors playing black Americans on screen quickly went viral yesterday.
Samuel Jackson emphasized that it wasn’t his intent to slam black British actors; his criticism was of the Hollywood studio system: “It was not a slam against them, but it was just a comment about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way sometimes.”
He complimented the talent and resumes of black British actors working in the USA, but stated that the opposite is rare, suggesting that it’s a concern for him: “We’re not afforded that same luxury, but that’s fine, we have plenty of opportunities to work… I enjoy their work… I enjoy working with them when I have the opportunity to do that,” he added.
It should be noted that one reason why black American actors aren’t “afforded that same luxury” is because there isn’t exactly a lot of work for black actors in the UK, whether you’re British or American, or elsewhere; which is ultimately why some of them have opted to take their chances in the USA, because there are far more opportunities. There’s just no comparison between the American film industry (the dominant, most prolific in the world) and the UK film industry. The former is about 10 times the size in terms of output and box office of the latter. So it’s all relative.
I really wish this wasn’t a debate. We’re fighting each other for crumbs, instead of uniting to fight a system that practically ensures that we fight each other.
The vast majority of roles for black actors in Hollywood are still going to African American actors. Just take a look at the top 10 grossing American-produced films, as well as TV shows in the USA starring black actors, over the past several years.
One could argue that, regardless of skin color, there may be a reverence for British actors in general, not just specifically black British actors; an inferiority complex if I may. However, unlike white actors, the amount of work available for black actors is severely limited, as a plethora of more than capable actors from of all ethnic groups of the diaspora, compete for a minuscule number of jobs. And thus the disparity is even more blatant than it is among white actors. And Samuel L. Jackson does actually allude to this in the original interview, stating that it’s not just black British actors; there are white British (or European in general) actors being cast in lead roles in big-time Hollywood projects; but this didn’t get as much attention.
An understanding of how the business works would also come in handy here. Without getting too specific or too detailed, not every role is traditionally cast; in some cases, a project may be originated/initiated by an actor who wants to play the lead role in whatever the specific film or TV series is. And then they do the necessary work to see it become a reality.
But a black British “invasion” – as some would like to believe is happening – there is not. The vast majority of roles for black actors in Hollywood are still going to African American actors. Perception is not reality.
Something else to consider here is that, just as some black Americans fume over the casting of non-black american actors in distinctly black American roles, the other side of that coin happens elsewhere. Recall the backlash Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard faced when they played Nelson and Winnie Mandela in 2 different films? Also we repeatedly teased Sanaa Lathan and her accent, when she played a Senegalese love interest to American Matthew Broderick, in the 2009 indie “Wonderful World.” And some black Brits I know weren’t exactly tickled when Don Cheadle played a British man in the “Ocean’s 11” movie franchise.
So the door swings both ways.
Below is yesterday’s post on the interview Samuel L. Jackson gave that ignited this whole thing. I encourage you to actually listen to the whole interview; it’s about 40 minutes long, and they cover a lot of topics. It’s a very good and honest conversation. Don’t get bogged down by the 2-minute segment on black British actors.
You are always guaranteed to get nothing but honesty from Samuel L. Jackson. I’ve had the pleasure of interview him in person just once (leading up to the premiere of “Django Unchained”), and he’s very much the character that you think he is. And that’s what, in part, makes him engaging; in addition to the fact that he’s been in the business for a long time, and has seen and experienced plenty, so he has a lot to say.
And he doesn’t hold back at all in an interview he gave to the New York radio station Hot 97, during which Jackson touched on a variety of industry related issues – specifically those that affect black talent. From expressing his concern for how black women are sometimes portrayed on screen (he singled out Anika Noni Rose in BET’s “The Quad” which did draw criticism from HBCU brass; and Kerry Washington in “Scandal”), to what he feels is an “invasion” (my term) of black British actors, seemingly taking jobs from black American actors (he specifically talks about Daniel Kaluuya being cast as the lead in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” wondering what an African American actor may have done differently with the role; and he also mentions “Selma” which starred David Oyelowo as MLK), to how much progress black people have made in the film and TV industry, commending the varied representations of black life that we’re seeing more of (he mentions “Moonlight” which he says he loved, and its co-star Mahershala Ali, as well as Issa Rae’s hustle, progress and success), to the evolution the industry has seen in recent years (the various platforms that exist today that didn’t a decade ago), and much more.
It’s actually quite an engaging interview. He says some things that I’m sure will upset some folks and lead to controversy, but when it comes to Samuel L. Jackson, I think that’s expected. Nevertheless, it’s a comprehensive conversation that touches on a myriad of things, including Trump, Jackson’s early days as an actor, the New York versus LA beat, and more.
He also confirms that he’s not in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther movie if that was something you were curious about.
The interview is 36 minutes long. Watch it below: